Thursday, June 25, 2015


    The words are still shocking, even more so from an 11 year old.
    "They ought to kill all the niggers or send them back to the slave houses. The stupid old niggers are the problem."
     The petulant girl was the daughter of the kleagle of a particularly active and virulent cell of the ku klux klan. Her words were pivotal in a documentary demonstrating how racism is passed through generations. 
      I covered the klan and extremist groups in the mid 60's and years later wrote and produced KLAN to portray how and why racism and racial hatred is so deeply woven into the American fabric. David Brinkley, one of the national Emmy judges, along with Senator Barry Goldwater, called KLAN "One of the most important hours in television." A national Emmy is an honor but little good that program or many other fine journalistic efforts have done to sear the disease of racism from society.
       A friend and Presbyterian pastor was active in the struggle that got the confederate flag removed from atop the Dome at the Statehouse in Columbia South Carolina. That it still flies anywhere is symptomatic of the disease. 
      Despite comments about heritage, legacy, history or any honey tongued justification, the flag is all about racism, white supremacy and slavery. Ta-Nehisi Coates in this Atlantic piece presents the very words of the confederacy and their political leaders. They are convicted by their own uttering. 
     The racist front continues in the existent celebration and heritage of the confederacy in the south; streets, highways, schools bearing the name of confederate leaders along with statues, monuments and cultural icons. We can not afford to forget facts and must seek to understand the pathology of the culture, but we should not elevate the symbols and names of those who sought to keep humans enslaved, denied of their rights, liberties and dignity and made war to do so. 
    The flag belongs in an historical museum, as a nazi swastika or heraldry is kept. It is an object of study. It is a token of a shamed and hateful ideology. The flag itself will not spur a supremacist to violence but its very flying near a seat of government is a nod and wink that condones a perpetuation of the hatred. 
    Whether on license plates, belt buckles, t-shirts, bumper stickers, in media or even tattoos, anything that celebrates slavery should be seen for what it is, evil and a discredited idea banished to the ash bin of history.
    Words carry emotional history. We debated and anguished over inclusion of the girl's words. I debated with myself in telling the story in this post. Such is testament to the sensitivity and respect that is due, but "to each his own," unless it inflicts pain, as does the confederate flag.
    A post script: Hoagland Jr. High School in Ft. Wayne was a mix of Black, Hispanic and Caucasians-almost an equal split with fewer Caucasians. Our basketball team was predominately Black with a few Latinos and a couple of us white guys.  In the final moment of a city tourney game our center, Roosevelt (Rosie) Dodds made an incredible hook shot giving us a win. As we triumphantly moved to the locker room several of my team mates deliriously gave Rosie high fives, cheering "way to go Nigguh."  I lined up behind a black mate and when I got to Rosie's locker I gave him a high five and said "way to go Nigguh."  Rosie smiled, picked up his tennis shoe and whacked me on the face. Still smiling, extending his hand to pick me up he said "but you ain't no Nigguh!" Rosie taught me a lesson, vivid today as it was years ago.
     BTW we aired a 10th Anniversary reprise of KLAN.
The sassy and hateful little girl had grown up. She was still at home but had been banished to a trailer on the families property. She apologized to our viewers saying she had changed her mind and learned real history. She was working with "African Americans" and considered one a good friend. 

      The man on the left is Elias Chacour, thrice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I recalled the week I spent with Father Chacour as I read of recent Druze violence in the middle east.
       Chacour has done what no one else has. He's brought Druze, Muslim, Orthodox, Arab, Palestinian, Jew and Christian together.
  I shot this assemblage of every middle eastern faction imaginable-Israeli government, Palestinian, Druze, Muslim, Arab, Christian, Melkite Catholic, Orthodox. Chacour had convened them to dedicate a new building at his remarkable Peace school in Ibillin in the hills of Galilee.    
  Struggling against unimaginable odds, it seems no one wanted him to succeed, Chacour created a school where Jew, Muslim, Druze, Palestinian and Christian children studied together. I was there as a journalist and was overwhelmed his achievement. I was indelibly impressed by 
by the courage and extraordinary quality of the man. We had hours of conversation driving across Israel, in his garden, at dinners and in his home. We watched him work his efforts at reconciliation. Chacour was born in Galilee and considers himself a Palestinian-Arab-Christian citizen of Israel. He is truly a peace maker, perhaps the hardest job on the planet.
      Role models are important, as are images and symbols.
To what do we owe our attention?

  With appreciation to my daughter Katherine!

   See you down the trail.



  1. The Coates column was something wasn't it? We had one black man in my hometown, he was the trainer at the Elk's club gym and helped with the Golden Glove's program the guy who owned Ness Camera started. he was well liked but on the level of a friendly black Lab. When the Grand Forks Air Force base went operational in '59. Black families and their kids started to show up and of course the kids attended school with us. The first black kid in the school system was Charlie Ezell...Charlie probable wished he was going to school in Birmingham because of the initial treatment he got. I have no idea where the racism came from, we had no experience with it. My Mom was a Roosevelt Democrat and she was harsh with anyone who said anything negative about the new kids in school. As time went on, everything was cool, except the basketball coach was bitterly disappointed that not all those tall, black Air Force brats could play hoops like he dreamed they could.

  2. We pay athletes so much, and we reward our peace makers so little.

  3. Hell of a post. You've had a fine life so far; well done and well written.

  4. The Coates article in the Atlantic should be required reading in civics classes, which I understand are no longer required in all schools, which is worse than a shame. I grew up and went to college in the south. Oglethorpe University was and is a rightfully well-respected liberal arts college in Atlanta, GA. However, in a history class I was told that Southern secession and the Civil War were not primarily about racism and slavery, but about economics. Sure, economics had something to do with it---dig deep enough and everything has some sort of economic root---but read the historical documentation dug up by Coates. Most have at their heart the supposed superiority of one race (white) over another (black) race. Needless to say, my professor, a southern gentleman, did not point his students to these more damning official statements from throughout southern government of the time that Coates enlightens us with.

  5. I think I've read this post 3 times in the past 3 days and each time finish with a feeling of great admiration. Please accept my opening sentence as articulation of that feeling.